Adaptability as a Moderator on the Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse and the Development of Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms
Kalmanson, Courtney Marie
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Globally, it is estimated that 11.8% children experience Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) prior to the age of 18 (Stoltenborgh et al., 2011). However, the current prevalence rate of CSA is far underestimated due to the fear, shame, and denial that the victim experiences. Similarly, many survivors of CSA experience post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) following the experience of CSA, which may develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over time. Furthermore, some children may adjust well despite the traumatic experience, suggesting resiliency. Much of the research on CSA focuses on the link between CSA and development of psychopathology, including but not limited to PTSD, as well as external protective factors related to resilience against the development of PTSD. The present study builds upon the current literature on resilience to PTSSs following CSA by identifying an additional internal protective factor, adaptability, which may decrease the severity of PTSS. A review of the existing literature on CSA-related PTSS development and previously established protective factors is provided. The present cross-sectional study utilized data from clients of Florida Institute of Technology’s Family Learning Program (FLP), a sexual abuse treatment program utilizing evidence-based interventions, including Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT). A total of 39 children, with mean age of 7.92 (SD = 3.31), were enrolled in this study. 59.0% (n = 23) of the sample identified as female, and 41.0% (n = 16) identified as male. In this sample, approximately 82.1% (n = 32) did not meet PTSD criteria and 17.9% (n = 7) did meet PTSD criteria according to clinician clinical judgement. This study suggested that children with higher PTSS (as measured by the CRIES-13) showed lower adaptability (as measured by the PSI-4-SF DC scale). CSA characteristics were significantly related to level of adaptability suggesting that early intervention to increase adaptability can improve CSA survivor’s ability cope with the cognitive, behavioral, and affective difficulties that arise following CSA. Identifying internal protective factors against the development of PTSD following CSA has implications for enhancing caregivers’ and mental health providers abilities to increase children’s resilience (i.e., level of adaptability), protecting them against long-term negative impacts of CSA.